Book Review: Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris


Gentlemen & Players by Joanne Harris

Black Swan Books (paperback), 2006

506 pages


At St Oswald’s, a long-established boys’ grammar school in the north of England, a new year has just begun. For the staff and boys of the school, a wind of unwelcome change is blowing. Suits, paperwork and Information Technology rule the world; and Roy Straitley, the eccentric veteran Latin master, is finally – reluctantly – contemplating retirement.

But beneath the little rivalries, petty disputes and everyday crises of the school, a darker undercurrent stirs. And a bitter grudge, hidden and carefully nurtured for thirteen years, is about to erupt.


IF THERE’S ONE thing I’ve learned in the past fifteen years, it’s this: that murder is really no big deal. It’s just a boundary, meaningless and arbitrary as all others – a line drawn in the dirt. Like a giant NO TRESSPASSERS sign on the drive to St Oswald’s, straddling the air like a sentinel. I was nine years old at the time of our first encounter, and it loomed over me then with the growling menace of a school bully.


Harris is one of my favourite writers. What I like about her is her diversity. She can write fiction that is quite light and whimsical and stuff that is quite dark. I like that her novels vary. I get bored when a writer churns out the same shit over and over. That’s the main reason James Patterson is off my list.

I thought Gentlemen & Players was great. I was gripped from the first page. I liked the way Harris moves between the viewpoints of two different first person narrators. It was interesting to read alternative perspectives on what was going on. Gentlemen & Players is packed with suspense which gradually increases as the tone gets darker and darker. I loved the way Harris handles pace in this novel. Harris reveals what’s going on little by little, one crumb at a time and gradually answers all the questions buzzing about in your head. I love it when writers keep me guessing. I loathe it when they do the opposite. Gentlemen & Players is a bit darker than the other Harris novels I’ve read but just as damn good.





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